On 17 March 2014, UAE security forces violently arrested Osama al-Najjar after he tweeted a response to remarks made by the Ruler of Sharjah in a radio interview. During the interview, the ruler stated that families of the UAE 94, a group of political prisoners tried en masse in 2013, should not fill their children with hate and malice against the country. Osama’s father is one of the 94.
Following his arrest, security forces held Osama in solitary confinement in a secret location for four days, where they denied him any contact with his family or lawyer. His mother’s requests for information from the authorities also went unanswered. While detained, al-Najjar suffered at the hands of security officials. They tortured him amid daily questioning, repeatedly beating him on his face and body.
After spending almost six months in pre-trial detention, Osama al-Najjar appeared before the State Security Court at the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi, whose decisions are not subject to appeal. The court tried al-Najjar on charges of belonging to a banned group, offending and inciting hatred against the state via social media, and “passing information to foreign organizations.” On 25 November 2014, the court found Osama al-Najjar guilty and sentenced him to three years in prison and a fine of 500,000 Emirati dirham (approx. $136,000).
Despite international pressure to urgently overhaul laws that criminalize the peaceful exercise of free expression and association, the UAE continues to misapply its laws to detain those who express critical opinions. The repressive anti-terrorism law passed in August 2014 warrants extensive prison terms for broadly defined “terrorist” acts, including threatening national unity or stability. Ultimately, the case of Osama Al-Najjar is only a small indication of the ongoing repression being suffered by Emiratis under legislation that criminalizes numerous forms of free expression.
Patrick Gill is an advocacy intern at Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain.